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Checklists aren’t very exciting, but there’s evidence that they can make a huge difference in how well you do something. Nine hospitals in Michigan instituted a checklist system for reducing the number of infections in their intensive care units (ICUs), and infections went down by 66%, saving 1,500 lives and 75 million dollars in healthcare expenses over an 18-month period.
The hospitals’ checklist was only five items long, and included things that everyone already knew they should be doing. But just because they knew that they should do them didn’t mean that they actually did them. They often just forgot. And if doctors in the ICU are forgetting simple things, it stands to reason that you are, too. A checklist can change that.
Why We Forget the Basics
It’s not entirely clear why we forget things that we know. Everyone forgets things—sometimes it’s because we fail to store information in memory, sometimes we aren’t able to move something from short-term to long-term memory, and sometimes it’s because there are other things going on in our brains that get in the way.
This last one is probably the most common when it comes to forgetting things that we know we should do. Our brains are constantly processing information—especially if you’re browsing the Internet or doing something else that exposes you to lots of distractions—and that makes it hard to think carefully.
This can make you forget all sorts of things. You might forget to document a process that you’ve just done, leading to duplication when someone else does it. You could forget to double-check your figures in a spreadsheet and miss an error. It could be something small, like forgetting to stretch in the morning when you’re trying to make it a habit. The human mind is amazing in its ability to forget almost anything.
Taking It Out of Your (Brain’s) Hands
This is why checklists are so useful—because they remove the burden of remembering from your brain and move it to paper. Paper doesn’t forget. A computer doesn’t forget either (unless something goes terribly wrong). When you create a checklist and consult it before you take action, all you need to do is look at the list and do the things that are on it—and you make fewer mistakes. It’s that simple.
Checklists are useful in all sorts of situations—for work, at home, in your personal life, even for really basic things like getting ready in the morning before you go to work. Keep forgetting to bring your flash drive to work? Add it to a checklist. Want to make sure that you log your time working on a specific project? Make a checklist for the end of the day to make sure you don’t forget.
There’s no limit to how many checklists you can make and how much time and energy you can save by taking advantage of the unlimited memory of paper and silicon.
Tools for Making Checklists
Fortunately, there are tons of great tools for making checklists. You could go old-school and keep checklists in a paper notebook, or put them on Post-It notes on your desk. You could use a plain text file to keep track of your checklists, if you’re a fan of the minimalist look on your computer.
Of course, there are a lot of other great tools that you can use to manage your checklists, each of which can be very valuable if you decide to make a lot of different lists. Wunderlist, for example, allows you to make different to-do lists; you could create one for each checklist.
Microsoft’s OneNote can also be great for keeping lists organized; keyboard shortcuts, embedded files, and links to other Microsoft programs mean you have all the tools you need to manage and access your checklists when you need them. Evernote and other note-taking apps can help you in the same way. Even Microsoft Word can create checklists (see below for instructions).
You can use Trello for just about anything, and checklists are no exception: it’s a great system for creating, managing, and accessing a lot of lists, and its card system makes it easy to keep them separated into different sections. And you can access it on your phone, making it a great mobile list-keeping app.
If you just want to make a checklist and print it, there are plenty of tools online that will help you out. Printable Checklist is a no-nonsense, no-frills checklist generator. Just click Add item to add more items to your list and type in what each item should be. Then print away. Checklist.com lets you create your own list or choose one from 55 different categories that you can download and get using right away. There’s even a mobile app so you can access your lists from anywhere.
Chances are, if there’s something you need to do, someone has already created a list that you can use. Just search [what you’re doing] checklist and see what comes up. We’ve even posted checklists here on MakeUseOf; we have a two-part PC spring cleaning checklist, a VPN features checklist, and six digital routine checklists.
Make a Printable Checklist in Microsoft Word
Of course, if you want to make your own checklist, you can fall back on an old standby: Microsoft Word. To create a printable checklist in Word, you’ll need to make a bulleted list. Click on the arrow next to the list button, then click Define new bullet. Click on Font and choose Wingdings, then click on Symbol and choose the empty square.
Now, just type your list, and you’ll get a checkbox next to each item. Print it out, and you’ll have a checklist!
It’s also possible to create a checklist that you can check off in Word, but that’s more complicated and a lesson for another day (Microsoft support has a tutorial for it if you’re interested).
Stop Forgetting: Start Checking
Now that you know the benefits of checklists and have a wide range of tools at your disposal for creating them, you can start creating your own lists for the things that you’re likely to forget. Whether you’re going to make your own checklist with Microsoft Word, manage a whole system of lists in Trello, or print off some pre-made checklists, you can be confident that you’ll make fewer mistakes, no matter what you’re doing.
What are the things that you forget often and have you found other ways of reminding yourself? Please share in the comments!